5 Minutes with Felicity Topp

By January 17, 2019 March 21st, 2019 5 minutes with...
Could you please explain your current position?

I am the Chief Executive at Peninsula Health.

Peninsula Health offers health services for people living in Frankston and the Mornington Peninsula. We have a broad range of services from maternity, acute and community care, mental health, aged care and rehabilitation. We have 5800 staff and approximately 800 volunteers.

What attracted you to the position at Peninsula Health?

I have worked in the Victorian healthcare system for over 30 years and have had many roles. I trained as a nurse and I have worked in intensive care, nurse manager, clinical nurse consultant divisional director of nursing and in a number of  executive leadership roles. I have worked in a number of great organisations including Melbourne Health, Barwon Health, the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and currently Peninsula Health. After a fabulous 4 years at Peter Mac, I was ready for a new challenge and applied for the position of CEO.

When I was in high school, I believe my teachers would have voted me as “the most unlikely person to become CEO” but I was confident that I could do the job after many years of support from some great health leaders.

What roles have you previously been involved in that have had a positive impact on your career?

I am a nurse and I completed my critical care training at the Royal Melbourne hospital, and then worked overseas for a few years, mainly in Saudi Arabia. Working in Saudi as a nurse manager in ICU was not easy and it certainly exposed me to a different culture and working and leading a diverse workforce. I have carried this experience with me throughout my career.

Both your current and previous roles have considerable responsibility. What does that feel like and how are you successful in your role?

I have a personality that thrives on being active and engaged, and I like to be aware of everything that is happening around me. I love the complexity of the role, and that everyday can bring a different opportunity or issue that needs to be resolved. I like working with a team of people who are engaged, and interested in making a difference to the way in which we provide care in our health service.

My biggest achievement was not being expelled while at high school and finishing HSC. Since then I have worked at things I enjoy doing. I like working with people who can stretch my thinking and in health, there are so many very clever people doing great things. I love to support people and giving them opportunity, which I have been afforded to me throughout my career.

I also treat everybody as being equally important and my relationships with the cleaning and kitchen staff are as important as my relationships with the professors of nursing, surgery and other senior clinicians.

Were there any challenges along the way for you to reach this point in your career?

I have been so fortunate to be surrounded by people who have given me opportunities, including Ms Watson who was the Principal who didn’t expel me, and given the chance to prove myself and to be successful. I have had great leaders around me throughout my entire career and have personally worked hard to reach this point.

How do you and your team work to help motivate your employees?

I am a leader that is visible and approachable and in fact I love being out in the clinical areas talking to staff and patients. For me I think all leaders need to be seen and engaged with the workforce available to listen, communicate, understand the issues, and work with everybody on delivering the strategy for the organisation.

Today for example, I went to a tearoom out at one of our community health centres to meet the nurses who had a client who had a cardiac arrest while undertaking rehabilitation. I went to talk to them and listen to what happened and to thank them for responding well to a very difficult clinical situation.

Community health nurses don’t have people collapse on them every day, so it was important that they knew I was interested and concerned that they as a group were OK.

What were the benefits of working with an executive recruiter to secure this opportunity?

Wayne made the initial contact with me regarding the role and convinced me to apply for the job. It was so far off my radar and I hadn’t thought about applying for the position.

Wayne took his time to fully explain what the organisation was looking for, and spent time working with me to work through the value I might be able to bring to the organisation. He continued to work with me on that throughout the entire process.

How has your experience been with Ccentric?

Very good.

What is the best book you have read this year?

I have read a few good books this year, but I think I would say ‘The Eye of the Sheep’ by Sofie Laguna. It is a book about a young boy growing up in Queensland who has learning difficulties and an abusive father. I loved the story line; being about finding your place in the world and accepting and making the best of what you have been given.

We recently interviewed Jason Aquilina; Chief Financial Officer at Cabrini Health. Click here to read his interview.

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